PR Insider: Keeping It Short and Simple With the Media

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When we hear the word KISS, one of four thoughts usually comes to mind: showing affection, a rock band, tasty teardrop-shaped chocolates or the adage “Keep It Simple, Stupid!”

The latter is the belief that simplicity should always be a goal.

For PR professionals, especially those tasked with pitching story ideas to the media, KISS means “Keep It Short and Simple.”

David Hamilton
David Hamilton

Long-winded explanations may have their place in the boardroom but are ignored in the newsroom. Media outlets are constantly inundated with press releases, emails and phone calls. Reporters are always on the go and spend most of their day out of the office, meaning they read a majority of their emails on a smartphone or tablet. They don’t have time to scroll through a lengthy email, so keeping it brief can help your cause.

The reporters who cover our clients on a regular basis prefer an informal relationship, and chances are your contacts do as well.

When sending out a press release via the wires or in a mass email, we also always send it separately to select journalists with a one- to two-line message highlighting the key information, usually at the top of the email and in a different color font than the full release that follows.

One particular situation comes to mind that can help illustrate my point. A few months ago, a university conducted an economic impact study of a large-scale real estate development we represent, and the findings were very positive — estimating that the project will generate $154 billion and create 115,000 permanent jobs by the completion of construction in 40 years.

This was obviously great news for our client, but to avoid the story getting buried in the abyss of a reporter’s email inbox, we knew we had to keep the pitch simple: $154 billion, 115,000 jobs!

Essentially, we provided a headline, and if reporters were interested in diving into the numbers deeper or investigating how the figures were calculated, they could do so by reading the 500-word press release that included a link to the full-length, 24-page-long study online. Topline though, we wanted to make sure they received the key message: this development will greatly benefit the local, regional, and state economies.

The end result was an overwhelming amount of positive press, mostly focused on the two figures we highlighted in our outreach.

So, how can you keep it short and simple? Give them the attention-grabbing facts, no less, no more!

As a journalist I speak with often likes to tell PR professionals, “If I’m interested, I can connect the dots. You just need to give me a couple of starting points.”

In journalism school, students are taught to ask the five W’s: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. A good press release or pitch email should provide answers to those five questions. When I was a reporter, as I skimmed through my countless emails, I was looking for the following information: Who are you representing? What is the event or story idea? When is it happening? Where is it taking place? and Why do my viewers and/or readers care?”

Think of it the same as if you were preparing to brief a company’s CEO. You wouldn’t walk into the room with a binder full of documents for him/her to review, but instead would have some top-line agenda items and bullet points to discuss. If the CEO had further questions, you would then provide additional information or put him or her in contact with the appropriate person.

If reporters or assignment editors want more information, they’ll ask for it. By providing them with the basics and how to contact you if they are interested, you’ll increase the chances of generating positive media coverage.

Case in point: the press release sports agent David Falk sent out on March 18, 1995, addressing rumors that client Michael Jordan might be returning to the NBA.

In its entirety, it read: The following statement was released today by Michael Jordan, through his personal attorney and business manager David B. Falk, Chairman of Falk Associates Management Enterprises, Inc. located in Washington, D.C., in response to questions about his future career plans: “I’m back.”

Sports reporters covering Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were well aware of the backstory, so there was no need for additional explanation. Falk also knew they were more interested in the press conference that would follow than the release itself, so he kept it short and simple.

While Falk’s release is an extreme example of being concise, it is a good lesson in the importance of brevity when communicating with the media.

So, next time you write a press release or are about to hit send on that email, remember the words of Queen Gertrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “More matter, with less art,” which is the Renaissance way of saying, “Get to the point!”

David Hamilton is the director of earned media at Burkhead Brand Group. Previously, he was a television reporter and host for several national networks and regional affiliates. Follow Burkhead Brand Group: @BBGIntegrated